Thinking beyond the chicken breast can help you augment your protein intake (and broaden your palate) to support muscle growth.
Consuming enough protein is not only critical for building and maintaining muscle—it also happens to be important for maintaining a healthy nutritional profile. But that same old chicken breast can get pretty boring, whey powder only comes in so many flavors and there are only so many eggs you can eat before you start to sprout feathers—particularly if you are trying to adhere to the M&F-approved 1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day benchmark. So the next time you’re in a protein rut, consider one of nature’s alternative protein sources. Or, just consider tossing some new protein sources into your diet for some variety.
You know they’re good for your heart, but around the world, beans also serve as a major source of protein. One-half cup of beans contains as much protein as an ounce of steak. And one cup can provide about 20% of the recommended daily value (%DV) of protein. White, adzuki, pinto, kidney and black beans all contain roughly 15 grams of protein per cup. Beans are also an excellent source of fiber, which besides the many health benefits, also helps fill you up with less; a key to maintaining proper body weight.
Soybeans can be found in many forms from spiced bar snacks in Tokyo (edamame) to tofu burgers. Soybeans offer the greatest protein concentration of all beans at between 22-29 grams of protein per 1 cup serving. Soybeans are also rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids; substances that contribute to heart health and reduce inflammation. It’s had a bad rap, but many of its estrogen-increasing, testosterone-decreasing effects are overblown—just eat it in moderation.
Lentils are another powerful plant source of protein consumed around the world, particularly in the Mediterranean and throughout southern Asia. Dried lentils keep well, have a long shelf life and the third highest level of protein, by weight, of any legume or nut. Each cup contains approximately 15 grams of protein and is also a great source of thiamine (vitamin B1).
Peanuts are actually a legume, not a nut and as such are related to beans and lentils. And just like their cousins, peanuts provide an excellent source of protein. Peanuts provide 7-9 grams of protein per ounce. Peanuts also seem to help keep people lean. Studies have shown those who eat peanuts twice a week are over 30 percent less likely to gain unwanted weight than those who don’t eat any at all. Doing peanut butter? Pick a natural source that just contains peanuts and salt.
Almonds are true nuts and among the most protein-rich of all the different varieties. They provide approximately 6 grams of protein per ounce or roughly 20 grams per half cup. In addition to contributing to heart health with their many antioxidants, almonds may help you stay slimmer. A study showed that overweight and obese people on a low-calorie, almond-enriched diet had a 56 percent greater reduction in body fat compared with those on a low-calorie, high-carb diet.
Among leafy green vegetables, the little Brussels sprout is a powerhouse ofprotein; more than one quarter of their caloric value is protein. One cup provides 3 grams of protein or about eight percent of the recommended daily value and about 130 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. Like other cruciferous vegetables they are rich in fiber and may help to protect against cancer.
Whatever the impetus, these shellfish provide a great source of lean animalprotein. An 8-ounce serving of oysters yields about 18 grams of protein, or about 35 percent of the daily recommended intake. Oysters are also a great source of iron, zinc, selenium, iodine, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Hailed as the latest ancient grain superfood, quinoa is actually related to beetroots and spinach and harvested for its seeds. Quinoa is a good source ofprotein and unique among plant sources of proteins, because it is one of the few plants that provide a complete protein source. A complete protein source is one that provides all the essential amino acids. A 1-cup serving provides approximately 8 grams of protein, not to mention a great way to spruce up your salads or a cup of brown rice.
If contemporary protein choices seem a bit boorish, or you just want to be extremely paleo try adding spirulina to your diet. Spirulina is a nutrient-rich cyanobacteria that was harvested and pressed into dried cakes by the indigenous peoples of Mexico. Per dried weight, spirulina is one of the densest sources of complete protein on the planet. Spirulina has approximately 65-71 percent complete protein; compare that to beef, the complete protein gold standard, which clocks in at about 22 percent.
Another source of protein humans have been grubbing on since time immemorial is grubs. Approximately 80 percent of the world’s population, including Latin America and Asia still consumes insects. A low-fat, high qualityprotein source, insects provide the basis for the latest protein energy bars (www.Chapul.com).
Dr. Mike Fenster, “America’s Culinary Interventionalist,” is a Board Certified Cardiologist, chef and martial artist who’s cutting-edge medical expertise and insight, culinary talents and dedication to fit living convene in his uniquely integrative Grassroots Gourmet™ approach to food-born health. His upcoming book “The Fallacy of The Calorie: Why the Modern Western Diet is Killing Us and How to Stop It” is currently available for pre-order at www.CardioChef.com.